Although the title of this piece is, in all probability, utterly misleading, it is not without reason I pin the moniker “Last of the Bundists” on the head of the departed Marek Edelman. There are several reasons. Firstly, he was most certainly the last of a dying breed. Marek Edelman passed away on the 2nd October 2009 at the age of 90. He was the last surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, fighting tooth and nail for Poland’s decimated Jewish population. He was a member of Solidarity and took part in the Round Table Talks which triggered the beginning of the end for communism in Europe. He received Poland’s Order of the White Eagle and France’s Legion of Honour for his wartime bravery and opposition activism.
Secondly, Marek Edelman was in every sense a true hero. Honoured in Poland, France and the US, and respected across Europe, this humble man decided to stay in Poland after the war and not, like so many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, emigrate to the newly forming State of Israel, then still the British Mandate of Palestine. He had fought and witnessed most of his friends and family die at the hands of the Nazis. To have survived such atrocities and then take up and leave was not Edelman’s style. He had defended Warsaw so that Warsaw and its inhabitants would live on. He would not be leaving Poland’s capital.
It is odd then that Edelman, a Jew and the last surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, was never honoured by or afforded the same degree of respect in Israel that he was given in Europe and the US. In trying to explain the “Last of the Bundists” sobriquet we should remmber that Marek Edelman belonged to the the Jewish Labour Party ‘Bund’ and was an outspoken anti-Zionist and a firm critic of Israel’s foreign policy in particular with regards to its middle-eastern neighbours. It was difficult for him, a socialist and supporter of Solidarity (and solidarity), to come to terms with what had become of the State of Israel. In this sense he really was the “Last of the Bundists”…
Marek Edelman 1919-2009, wartime hero, political activist and cardiologist will be sorely missed.